The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is known for its breath-taking golden beaches and scorching hot summers. But what I love most about the island is the food.
It’s nothing too fancy and there are no overly sophisticated ingredients; wild herbs and vegetables are the base of most Cretan dishes and olive oil is the not-so-secret key ingredient used not-so-sparingly.
The Cretan diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world and residents on the island say they have their diet to thank for their good health and longevity.
But aside from the health benefits, Cretan cuisine is full of flavour. Prepare to make your taste buds tingle, here are the top five foods you’ve got to eat when visiting Crete…
A sort of Greek style bruschetta, dakos consists of traditional dried bread – usually round barley rusk – baked several times and stored for months before being moistened with a spoonful or two of olive oil then topped with grated ripe tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese and oregano.
Crunchy, light and flavoursome, it makes the perfect pre-dinner snack or lunch, often eaten between 2pm-3pm and followed by a siesta.
Top tip: The bread can be tough, so give the olive oil time to soak into the bread before taking a bite.
A visit to Crete wouldn’t be complete with trying gyros or souvlaki – grilled meat (traditionally pork but you may also see chicken on the menu) – served in restaurants but most commonly sold as street food.
Gyros meat is prepared on a vertical spit – similar to how a kebab is cooked – typically seasoned with garlic and oregano and served in a wrap with onion and tomato. Souvlaki consists of small chunks of pork threaded on a skewer.
Top tip: Ask for a serving of tzatziki as an accompaniment if it’s not offered – a traditional Greek sauce made of yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar and dill.
It’s traditional in Crete for families to sit down to an evening meal together, between 9pm-10pm, to share a selection of small dishes as a course or appetiser known as meze.
Served hot or cold, it’s a similar concept to Spanish tapas, but the ingredients differ. Typical meze dishes include: olives, souvlaki, hummus, tashi dip, halloumi cheese, stifado stew, lountza pork loin.
Top tip: No need to dish out a portion on to a side plate, just grab a fork and tuck in like the Greeks do!
Cretan specialities are graviera cheese; a hard yellow cheese, and myzithra; a creamy white cheese, often served instead of feta in a Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions.
You’ll likely find this on the menu in most tradition Greek tavernas, often accompanied with a side of rusk bread to keep you full until dinner.
Top tip: Look out for restaurants serving Greek salad with capers – common in Crete and Santorini – it’s a tasty twist on the classic dish.
Cretans don’t tend to indulge in dessert; instead they toast the end of a meal with a shot of Raki, also known as ‘fire water’. Not for the faint hearted, Raki is 37.5% alcohol, distilled from what is left over from pressing grapes.
The spirit is said to actually clear your head rather than giving the expected next day hangover. It’s often offered as a complimentary welcome drink or to round off a meal.
Top tip: If you don’t enjoy it – leave it, otherwise a Cretan waiter could feel obliged to offer a refill if they see an empty glass.
Flights to Athens
- Jessica Fogarty